The Search for Darius the Mede

This document is based on an article by William H Shea—a gifted and dedicated scholar.  He has studied this and related topics for decades and made major contributions to our knowledge.  The purpose of this article is to make these concepts more accessible.  His full article—with the same title—is available on the web.

Critical scholars believe Daniel committed a historical blunder when he referred to Darius the Mede in 5:31-6:28 and 9:1. No such person in known from history.

This article identifies Darius with Ugbaru because it is said of both that they were in Babylon the night the last Babylonian king (Belshazzar) was slain, and assumed temporary rule of the Chaldean kingdom that night:

Darius the Mede “received the kingdom” (5:31) of the “Chaldeans” (5:30) the “night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain” (5:30).  “Received,” does not mean to become king. it only implies that he took over rule there—when the previous king was slain—on a temporary basis.

According to the Nabonidus Chroniclethe name of the general whose troops conquered Babylon for Cyrus on the 16th of Tishri was Ugbaru.  His name in the Nabonidus Chronicle varies.  In one instance it is spelled as Ugbaru, in another instance it is spelled Gubaru.  According to Shea the same individual is referred to.  He took over rule until Cyrus—the full king—arrived two weeks later.  He was, in effect, the trustee of the conquered kingdom until Cyrus arrived.

Note that Cyrus was not in Babylon when Belshazzar was slain.  This is one indication that Darius is not another name for Cyrus.

A second reason to identify Darius with Ugbaru is that both were made king:

Darius “was made king” (9:1).  This is the correct translation of the hophal verbal form, and the weaker translation “became king” (RSV, et al.) does not adequately capture the sense intended.  It means he was made king by someone else—it is proposed here by Cyrus.

Ugbaru—according to the chronicle—appointed governors.  He therefore also was made king.  This would have happened when Cyrus– the ruler of the empire—arrived two weeks later, on 8/3 (3rd day of the eighth month).  Cyrus therefore installed Ugbaru as vassal king in Babylon to rule jointly with and subject to him.

A third reason to identify Darius with Ugbaru is that both only ruled the Chaldean province—not the entire empire:

According to 9:1 Darius “was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans”.  This confirms that Darius is not another name for Cyrus, because Cyrus ruled the entire empire.  Darius limited rule is also confirmed by 5:30-31 where it states that Darius the Mede “received the kingdom” of the Chaldeans whenBelshazzar was slain.  Darius ruled under Cyrus.

The same applies to Ugbaru.

A fourth reason for identifying Darius with Ugbaru is that both appointed governors (Daniel 6:1-2 and the Chronicle).

A possible objection to the proposal that Darius is Ugbaru is that Ugbaru ruled only for one week, and that the events of Daniel 6 cannot fit into one week.  The remainder of this article will therefore show that the events of Daniel 6 can fit into one week.

On 7/16 (16th of Tishri, the seventh month) Ugbaru “received the kingdom” to use the words from Daniel—awaiting the arrival of Cyrus.  At this stage he could best be described as the military governor.

Cyrus arrived two weeks later, on 8/3 (3rd day of the eighth month).  Crowds of people greeted him—apparently with jubilation. They saw him as a deliverer from the disliked Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar.  Ugbaru already acted as trustee of the conquered kingdom.  It is at the arrival of Cyrus that he—as the ruler of the empire—would have installed Ugbaru as vassal king in Babylon to rule jointly with and subject to him.  It is proposed that Ugbaru took the throne name of Darius, by which he appears in the book of Daniel.

Cyrus probably set out in further pursuit of Nabonidus on 8/4 or 8/5.  Shortly after Cyrus’ departure, Darius took his first action in setting the kingdom in order: he appointed governors(6:1-2).  He did this quickly and in a very undemocratic style.  He conquered Babylon because he was able to make quick decisions and execute them immediately.  He ruled the kingdom in the same way.

But the highest post under the king had not yet been filled—that of chief governor or first president. The other officials could see, however, the way the selection process was going. Darius had evidently become acquainted with Daniel during the period of his military governorship, and Dan 6:3 says he “planned” to appoint him to that post.  Fearing Daniel’s appointment was imminent, the other officials, his rivals, had to swing into action quickly. If they were appointed on 8/6, then they probably hatched the plot against Daniel that night and went to the king with it the next day, 8/7. Darius, unaware of Daniel’s religious habits, acceded to the decree that no prayers could be given to any god for thirty days. The decree went into effect, let us say, on 8/7.

Daniel heard about the issuing of the decree, but he determined to continue with his usual practice of praying three times a day (Dan 6:10). It did not take thirty days to catch Daniel in prayer; it only took one day.  His rivals were eager to prevent him from being appointed as “president”.  The next day, 8/8, Daniel’s violation was reported to the king, and the king was forced to take action by the strength of his own decree. He had to put Daniel in the lions’ den.

Daniel spent that night 8/8 in the den with the lions, where he was protected. The king worried about Daniel and spent that sleepless night fasting (Dan 6:18). The next morning, however, Daniel emerged unscathed (vs. 19-23).  By now we have reached 8/9 in the rapid procession of events.

Angered by the officials who had maneuvered him into this awkward position, Darius now took action against them. Probably within an hour or two after having Daniel removed, he cast the officials and their families into the lions’ den. On this occasion the lions were not so cordial in their reception as they were to Daniel. Those officials and their families died there in Daniel’s place (v. 24).

Recognizing the divine protection afforded to Daniel, Darius made a decree that all of his subjects should “tremble and fear” before the God of Daniel (vs. 25-27). It is interesting to note that the text does not say they should pray to his God on this occasion.  That would be contrary to his previous decree.

Darius had now angered the priests of Marduk on two counts. First he had prohibited any prayers to their god, the god of the city and the country of Babylon. Then he had added insult to injury by proclaiming a decree in favor of the God of Daniel, not their own god Marduk.

The priests of Marduk were a powerful class in Babylon. They were sufficiently powerful that Nabonidus went into exile in Teima of Arabia for ten years for favoring the moon god Sin over Marduk.  They were not a class to be trifled with, and by favoring the God of Daniel over their god, Darius put himself in the path of danger.  The priests of Marduk, perhaps joined by disaffected officials, hatched a plotagainst Darius. They determined to poison him. The plot against Darius had been hatched by 8/10, and they put it into effect on 8/11.

The animal sacrifices in Babylonian temples took place twice a day in pairs of offerings.  These animal sacrifices were technically a banquet to which other deities were invited. The gods themselves received specified parts of the animals.  The remainder went to the king, the priests, and the temple staff.  This then presented an opportunity for the priests of Marduk to get their revenge.  When the king was presented with his portion of the sacrifice, there was an added ingredient in it—poison. The king died that night, 8/11. This is recorded by the Nabonidus Chronicle both with regard to the date and the time on that date, at night.

This is a rare, indeed virtually unique reference to the time of a king’s death.  The poison ingested with his portion of the evening sacrifice did its work, and he died that night. A general aged 62, in previously good health, strong enough to lead a conquering army three weeks earlier and to welcome Cyrus but a week before, dies suddenly after ingesting his portion of the evening sacrifice; a very suspicious circumstance. If we had his body to assay, it probably would show that it was well laced with one kind of poison or another.

It may at first appear paradoxical that a king who prohibited prayers to the gods should then partake of a sacrifice offered to them.  In spite of the prohibition against prayers, the sacrifices undoubtedly continued. These two liturgical functions served different purposes. Prayers served the purpose of gaining an answer to those petitions for the benefit of the person offering them. Sacrifices, on the other hand, were for the benefit of the gods. The gods were hungry, and they had to be fed. If they were not fed, they could turn upon the population and the country and cause all kinds of havoc. One did well, therefore, to continue sacrifices, even if prayers were suspended.

Daniel could have prayed the prayer of Daniel 9—dated in the 1st year of Darius the Mede—and received the prophecy of Dan 9:24-27—anytime during the week between 8/4 and 8/11.  However, Daniel might have received the prophecy on the same night the king died to fortify him.  Things looked favorable for the exiled Jews. Darius the Mede appeared to be kindly disposed toward Daniel and thus, through him, possibly to his people. But the next morning Daniel woke to find the king had died during the night. Would all of his optimism for the return of his people be dashed by this evil turn of events? No. Gabriel had already assured him the night before that Jeremiah’s prophecy of the return would occur, in spite of what happened among earthly rulers. Looked at from this perspective, there would have been no more appropriate time for Gabriel to have brought this assurance.


The events described above may be tabulated as follows:

7/16 Ugbaru/Darius “received” the kingdom of Babylon by conquest (Dan 5:31).  He established peace there as military governor (Chronicle, col. III, line 15).
8/3 Cyrus arrived in Babylon, greeted by crowds (Chronicle, col. III, line 18b-19).
8/4 Ugbaru/Darius “was made king,” by Cyrus (Dan 9:1).
8/5 Cyrus left Babylon in pursuit of Nabonidus.
8/6 Ugbaru/Darius appointed governors (Chronicle, col. III, line 20; Dan 6:1-2).  Darius planned to make Daniel chief governor (Dan 6:3).
8/7 Seeing Daniel’s appointment coming, the other governors plotted against him (Dan 6:4-5), Darius issued his decree against prayer (Dan 6:6-9).
8/8 Daniel, caught in prayer, was reported to Darius and placed in lions’ den (Dan 6:10- 17).
8/9 Daniel was delivered in the morning (Dan 6:19-23).  The plotting officials were killed in lions’ den (Dan 6:24).  Darius’ decree on behalf of the God of Daniel was given (Dan 6:25-27).
8/10 Plot against Darius by priests and surviving officials.
8/11 At the evening sacrifice Daniel prayed and Gabriel answered (Dan 9:1-27).  Ugbaru/Darius died that night (Chronicle, col. III, line 22b).


H. H. Rowley once wrote that there is no room in history for Darius the Mede.  Actually there is room in history for Darius the Mede as king of Babylon, but the size of that room is only one week.  It has been shown above that it was possible for all the events of Daniel 6 and 9 to have occurred within this week—in a tight and detailed integration of what is known of these events from Daniel and the Nabonidus Chronicle.

The scenario sketched above explains a number of things.  It explains why the prophecy in Daniel 10 to 12 was not dated to a year of Darius the Mede. Darius was dead, and that date formula went out of circulation after this brief use.

It explains why the gods were only returned to their cities in the ninth month.  To protect them the gods were brought to Babylon before Babylon was captured.  The Chronicle (col. III, line 21-22c) notes that the gods did not begin to return to their cities until the 9th month. The Chronicle does not specify upon which day this process began, but if one were to speculate on the basis of the chronology elucidated above, it would have been 9/6, 30 days after the date that Darius’ decree probably was originally given.  Darius’s thirty-day decree was a law of the Medes and Persians that did not change, even if the king who gave it had died.

This scenario might also explain the statement in Daniel 11:1—which seems out of place in the context.  In 11:1 the angel said that he protected Darius.  Daniel must have been remorseful for not being able to protect Darius better.  Therefore the angel explains to him that supernatural forces (10:21) led to the death of Darius by the hand of the priests of Marduk.

Lastly—and very significant—the narrow time frame of one week explains why historians have not found other evidence for Darius.

In Revelation the one that persecutes God’s people (18:24) is represented by a woman with the name Babylon (17:5).  She sits on a beast with seven heads (17:3), representing the political powers of the world (17:10).  In the scenario sketched above she is the priests of Marduk, killing Darius.  She has been around in every generation.

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